Job Loss Grief Stages

When you lose your job, you lose…. stuff.

13 years ago I lost 100% of my income. I vowed that wouldn’t ever happen again (that one person could pull a lever and 100% of my ability to pay my bills would evaporate).

I also lost my identity, because no long was I the general manager at a software firm. I didn’t know how to describe my guy, but after a couple of months I felt like the “neighborhood project.” That wasn’t good for my ego.

I lost friends… the people I spent hours with each day, who I had inside jokes with, who I trusted with personal information and aspirations. When you aren’t at the company anymore the relationship changes. I missed the old relationships.

In a way, I lost myself, and my dignity, and other stuff. But I don’t want to talk about what I lost. I want to talk about the weird-to-me stages of grief, and the emotions, that I went through.

If you look at the stages of grief (do a google images search) you’ll see things like: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

I was not expecting to go through various emotions. I seemed to cycle through them by the minute or hour. It’s no fun to be in denial (“did that really happen? After all I’ve done? Is this the twilight zone??”).

It’s no fun to be angry at people who just a week ago you were collaborating with, dreaming with, on the same page with.

But these emotions, these stages, happen. It can be confusing. It can throw you off your game. It can make you wonder if you are broken.

You are not broken. You are normal.

What you need to do is feel unbroken, and get back to functional.

When I cycle through the stages, and my emotions flip-flop around, I have a hard time concentrating. It’s hard to focus on networking, or interview prep, or job search strategy. I need to get back to functional.

I’m not trained in psychology, but here are my two recommendations:

  1. Allow yourself to go through the stages. Don’t get upset with yourself if you need to break down, veg, or whatever during one of the stages. Of course, don’t do anything harmful to yourself or anyone else… but give yourself a break and let these stages run their course.
  2. Do things to be out of the stages. Eventually, with time, you won’t hurt so much. You won’t be so confused. You will feel healed. You will be able to move on. I encourage you to do whatever work you need to do to get closer to that feeling of healing. Don’t be yourself up for the feelings in #1, but what can you do to feel more in control?

I remember in my last job search (January of 2018) I was pretty sure I was going to land The Big One. But I had been there before, years earlier, and I was sure I’d land a different Big One. When I didn’t land it, I was devastated. So this last time, instead of slowing down in my job search, I sped up. I networked more, I did more job search stuff… so that if they came back with a “we’re sorry, but we chose someone else” then I could be like “it’s okay, I have other stuff in the hopper.”

What I’m saying is: keep busy. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch… and do whatever you can so that if one thing doesn’t work out, they aren’t the only game in town. If you have other stuff going on, you’ll spread the risk and the dependency on one thing.

Stay busy, allow the emotions, and move forward. All of that is good advice. But I totally validate the feelings and confusion that you are going through.